Discover more from The Watch
Roundup: Baton Rouge police kept a torture black site, local officials arrest critics and protesters, Texas prepares to execute a man convicted with disproven Shaken Baby Syndrome, . . . and 76 hams
Hi all! I’m Radley’s intern, Peter Beck, here again for your criminal justice and civil liberties roundup.
Three Baton Rouge Police Department officers, including the Department’s deputy chief, were arrested for operating a Department-owned warehouse as a torture chamber. The officers were members of a so-called “elite” Street Crimes unit, and the warehouse’s intended use was as a “narcotics processing facility” for detainees and packaging evidence. Their arrests follow allegations against the same unit of physical and sexual abuse detailed in two lawsuits in federal court. One account was by a grandmother detained for mixing two different prescription pills into the same container. Now facing an FBI investigation into the Department, the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council voted to disband the Street Crimes unit and close the warehouse.
Those UberEats food delivery robots rolling around Los Angeles and sometimes appearing in your X (previously Twitter) feed for malfunctioning are also constantly recording their surroundings. The LAPD has already accessed the robots’ footage in one investigation, and emails revealed by FOIA requests show the company that operates the robots is eager to “partner” with the LAPD.
An Indiana Department of Natural Resources Officer lied to have a woman falsely arrested. She sued, and the officer is now asking Indiana taxpayers to cover the damages.
A California Sheriff’s deputy is accused of acting as a cartel drug courier after he was caught carrying 100 pounds of fentanyl in his vehicle. The deputy was responsible for transporting inmates to and from court and hospitals. Radley wrote about the same California sheriff’s office and its supposed tough-on-crime leader.
A Pennsylvania state trooper faces charges after he tackled, strangled, detained, and lied to commit to a mental health facility a woman with whom he was having an affair.
Over the last decade, 10 NYPD officers cost taxpayers more than $68 million in misconduct payouts. One officer has had 48 cases settled since 2013. He and the other officers are still on the job.
Police tased and arrested an Alabama high school band director for disorderly conduct, harassment, and resisting arrest after he failed to stop the band from playing after a football game.
Some Maryland police and prosecutors are refusing to follow a new law mandating young people be given attorneys before being interrogated.
Video caught several police officers in Seattle laughing about a young woman who died after a police cruiser going 74 mph struck her while responding to a drug overdose.
A piece in The Marshall Project examines the systemic culture of abuse and illegal behavior in the Memphis Police Department.
Bernalillo, New Mexico, police officers ordered a man from his vehicle, trained their guns on him, swore at him, and described him as “the threat” while his wife and son watched. The stop was for a traffic violation. The family had been rushing their Labradoodle, Stella, to a 24-hour emergency vet.
Some police departments in Minnesota are withdrawing school resource officers after the state passed a law barring officers from using chokeholds and other “extreme forms” of physical restraint on students.
The NYPD settled a lawsuit with the New York chapter of the ACLU over its crackdown on 2020 BLM protests.
Atlanta police are refusing to release body camera footage in the death of a 62-year-old black church deacon, Johny Hollman, who died after a police officer tased him. The officer was responding to a car accident in which Hollman was involved.
An audit found that a Missouri sheriff’s office spent county money on beer, 15 televisions, and 76 hams.
Another spending snafu: US Senate candidate and Pinal, Arizona, Sheriff Mark Lamb’s office bought $217,000 worth of guns, vests, and ammo with funds from an inmate welfare fund. Experts say the spending violates Arizona law.
Colorado set up a database of cops fired for misconduct to warn police agencies from rehiring them. The database isn’t working, however, as many cops with histories of abuse — such as the officers involved in Elijah McClain’s death — still show clean disciplinary records.
Speaking of rehires, the officer who killed Breonna Taylor, now at his new job as a sheriff’s deputy in Carroll, Kentucky, rammed his police cruiser into a pickup, then pointed his gun at the occupants and bystanders.
Two of the three highest-paid public employees in California work for the Vallejo Police Department. With overtime, their annual pay approaches seven figures.
Joliet, Illinois, officials paid $750,000 in a civil rights lawsuit brought by a black city cop after the city’s white police chief manufactured claims of domestic violence to derail the officer’s career.
Wyoming’s self defense laws are shielding a cop from prosecution after the officer illegally broke into a man’s home and the two exchanged gunfire. The officer killed the man. Wyoming stand-your-ground law doesn’t apply to police officers, even when they break the law.
Related: The Marshall Project looks at cases in which people were prosecuted after shooting at police during questionably legal raids on their homes. The piece focuses on Marvin Guy, a Texas man whose trial finally started this week. Guy has been in jail for nine years after killing a police officer during a drug raid on his home. Guy plausibly claims he didn’t know the raiding men were cops. Police claim to have found a small amount of cocaine in a trashcan behind the house.
Arkansas State Police settled for $267,500 after pulling over and detaining a black motorist for driving too carefully. The Trooper is still with the State Police despite a previous lawsuit against him by the ACLU for excessive force.
Activist group summarizes Seattle PD reports and records about K9 attacks that one sergeant called "spontaneous self-initiation of inappropriate bite contact." To translate from the exonerative tense: a K9 bit an innocent person. And it’s far from the first time this handler’s dog has bitten someone.
Nashville is getting its very own, much larger, much more expensive “cop city.”
Yet another large study finds that black and Latino motorists are disproportionately likely to be stopped, detained, and searched, even though searches of white motorists are more likely to turn up contraband.
When a dog got loose and wandered off after a storm, a neighbor called the local sheriff’s department to help find the owner. You know where this is going. Instead, the deputies shot the dog twice and threw it in a ditch. A lawsuit by the dog’s owners claims this is the department’s “standard operating procedure” when it comes to lost dogs.
A Jackson, Mississippi police officer struck and killed a pedestrian. The police department buried the man in a pauper’s grave, then neglected to inform the man’s family for months as they frantically tried to find him.
Incredibly, that is not the only horrific story about police in Mississippi neglecting a family frantically searching for a missing black man.
Police in Joliet, Illinois raid the wrong home, point their guns at a grandmother and her four grandchildren.
The Watch is a reader-supported publication. If you find this work informative and valuable please consider becoming a paid subscriber.
Jails and prisons
Also from The Appeal: Federal and state officials both severely undercount custodial deaths and fail to look into the circumstances surrounding them. The DOJ conceded in a report last month that they had failed to count thousands of deaths in the last three years alone.
A federal judge has ordered Louisiana to remove juveniles from the notorious Angola prison. Louisiana state officials are appealing the order to the Fifth Circuit.
CJ Ciaramella has an infuriating report at Reason about a group of federal prison guards who went unpunished despite overwhelming evidence that they raped a female prisoner.
A pregnant Alabama woman was jailed for charges of alleged substance abuse while pregnant. Sheriff’s deputies reasoned her imprisonment would “protect her unborn child.” Instead, she gave birth to the child in a jail shower. Her jailers refused to take her to the hospital, offering her only Tylenol for over 12 hours of labor. The woman is now serving a fifteen-year sentence on a conviction for “felony chemical endangerment” while pregnant.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul has been sitting on a bill that would make it easier to obtain post-conviction relief. The Innocence Project ranks New York third in the US for wrongful convictions.
Perry Lott was exonerated after 35 years of a wrongful conviction for rape and burglary in Ada, Oklahoma. Lott was freed in 2018 after three exculpatory DNA tests, but the then-District Attorney refused to fully exonerate him on the charges. A new District Attorney agreed with the Innocence Project, and vacated Lott’s charges.
Oddly, the Harris County jail somehow keeps releasing inmates who are already dead. An investigation by the Houston Landing revealed six times the Houston County Sheriff’s Office “released” deceased inmates to avoid counting them as deaths in custody.
Free speech and the First Amendment
A 23-year-old Albuquerque man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat shot a Native American activist at a protest rally. The activist was protesting in support of County officials’ decision to relocate a statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate.
Public school librarians in Charlotte County, Florida, have been asked to remove books with LGBTQ characters from school libraries and classrooms.
After one of the Backpage co-founders committed suicide last month, federal prosecutors are pressing on with a trial for his co-defendant. The judge has prohibited defense attorneys from raising the First Amendment as a defense.
The Supreme Court announced that it will decide the constitutionality of laws passed in Texas and Florida that restrict social media companies from removing sensitive political posts and accounts.
Iowa school officials have pulled hundreds of books from libraries because of a new law targeting depictions of “sex acts.” The books include notorious “pornographic” texts such as 1984, Brave New World, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Ulysses.
A man in Newton, Iowa was arrested for calling city officials fascists. The man’s frustration with city officials stems from a drunk driving arrest despite his breath test recording a blood-alcohol level of 0.00. The city how faces a civil rights lawsuit from the Institute for Justice.
Trump allies — and those who would likely be high-level advisors in his administration — are considering invoking the Insurrection Act and sending the military to quell protests on Trump’s first day in office.
Illinois reporter is ticketed for “interference/hampering of city employees” because he asked them questions.
Tennessee paid a $125,000 settlement to a man who was arrested over a Facebook meme mocking a fallen police officer.
Ron DeSantis orders public universities in Florida to shut down chapters of National Students for Justice in Palestine.
During the second GOP debate, Ron DeSantis bizarrely vowed that his administration would use the Justice Department to bring civil rights charges against progressive prosecutors.
A new study on just how inconsistent “consistent” forensic science is.
A prosecutor from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office was disbarred after withholding exculpatory evidence. An opinion by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court wrote that the “AGO’s failure to turn over exculpatory evidence” led to “thousands of defendants, who otherwise would have been eligible for relief at an earlier date, remain[ing] incarcerated during this time.”
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry won the State’s governor’s race last week. Landry ran on tough-on-crime rhetoric, blaming crime in Louisiana on “woke District Attorneys.” Last year, he helped orchestrate a bill that would reveal the criminal records of minors between ages 13 and 18 charged with violent crimes. Landry started his career as a police officer and sheriff’s deputy.
Almost all of the death row inmates in Louisiana are no longer eligible for clemency. After now-defeated Governor John Bel Edwards urged the State’s parole board to reduce 56 inmates’ sentences to life in prison, a group of district attorneys filed injunctions on the grounds that the parole board would ignore eligibility and time notice requirements. The board gave in to the district attorneys’ demands, leaving almost no time for the inmates on death row to receive clemency hearings.
The Drug War
Here’s a relevant report by Brad Heath from five years ago about how the Department of Justice under Trump deprioritized and declined drug smuggling prosecutions to spread more resources to lower-level deportations.
After California voted to ban flavored tobacco products last year, sales of illicit flavored tobacco products predictably shot up, leaving the rate of smoking unchanged.
Another day, another ridiculous “fentanyl exposure” story.
Check out the terrific new podcast by Beth Shelburne about the outrageous conviction and death sentence of Toforest Johnson. Radley previously wrote about the overwhelming evidence of Johnson’s innocence.
Gerardo Cabanillas is free after serving twenty-eight years for an erroneous conviction. Cabanillas confessed to a grizzly armed robbery and sexual assault after a detective interrogated him without an attorney for seven hours and promised he’d only get probation. Cabanillas maintained his innocence for three decades and was vindicated after DNA testing by the Innocence Project this year.
A New Jersey appellate court deemed “Shaken Baby Syndrome” testimony inadmissible, affirming a lower court’s ruling declaring it “junk science.”
A former justice for the Connecticut Supreme Court writes about her regret for an opinion upholding the bitemark-based convicted of a man who was later exonerated.
Indiana Supreme Court rules that the targets of property forfeitures have the right to a trial.
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the case of James King, an Iowa man severely beaten by federal law enforcement after a case of mistaken identity. Radley wrote about the case a few years ago. The Supreme Court has essentially made it all but impossible to sue federal law enforcement officers, even for egregious constitutional violations. Justice Sotomayor voted to hear the case.
Crime analyst Jeff Asher isn’t persuaded by Target’s claim that the company closed nine stores because of crime.
The Aurora, Colorado, city council is moving to disband its public defender’s office. The effort comes after the public defender’s office uncovered extensive constitutional violations by the city attorney and Aurora police department, which has had a consent decree in place since 2021.
A Fox News correspondent interviewed several Seattle residents for a fearmongering segment on crime. It did not go as planned.
In other unsurprising news, turns out the over-zealous vigilante Tim Ballard behind “Operation Underground Railroad,” known as the story behind the movie Sound of Freedom, is a sex creep. Ballard faces a litany of sexual misconduct allegations for using the anti-child sex trafficking organization to manipulate women into sexual contact.
A fascinating breakdown in Politico Magazine of how different ethnic groups settled in the U.S., and how where they settled has affected the trajectory of policy on crime, politics, the culture war, and just about everything else.
X (previously known as Twitter) faces accusations of giving Saudi Arabia confidential user data at a higher rate than in Western countries.
The Republican supermajority in the North Carolina state legislature empowered a committee chaired by Republican State Assembly leaders to investigate and enter any state employee’s home without a warrant. State employees under investigation also cannot contact legal counsel or alert a supervisor. Anyone deemed uncooperative by the committee could face fines and even jail time.
The FBI released its crime data showing a 6.5 drop in last year’s murder rate, which is now falling below 2020 levels.
Congressional Republicans introduce bill to expel Palestinians from the United States. This isn’t an alarmist characterization of the bill, it’s how the
bill’s own sponsor describes it.
Yusef Salaam, a member of the exonerated “Central Park Five,” won a seat on the New York City Council.
ProPublic looks at the “lung float test,” another sphere of bullshit forensics that has sent innocent people to prison — in this case, by wrongly accusing mothers of murdering their own children after what were actually stillbirths or miscarriages.
Mississippi law allows towns to declare homes “blighted” without notice, then gives owners just 10 days to challenge the designation before beginning eminent domain proceedings.
CORRECTION: This roundup has been edited to fix two editing errors. First, the post originally read that Wyoming’s Stand Your Ground law shielded a police officer who killed a homeowner during an illegal search. The officer was actually protected by the state’s self-defense common law. Second, this roundup originally stated that the Arkansas state trooper accused of stopping a man for driving too carefully is also facing an “ongoing” ACLU lawsuit. The claim against the trooper in that case was resolved in 2015 with a jury verdict in favor of the trooper, though the county where the incident took place settled a claim against another officer involved for $225,000.
Today in dog history:
Meet Fiona, the newest addition to the Balko-Segura pack: